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Microbes easily survive travel in outer space

Thursday, December 16, 2010 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: microbes, outer space, health news

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(NaturalNews) Scientists have discovered a type of bacteria that can survive in outer space for more than a year.

Researchers carried out the experiment on a type of bacteria known as OU-20, which lives in limestone cliffs off the coast of the English fishing village of Beer. It is closely related to a group of cyanobacteria known as Gloeocapsa, which thrives in extreme environments.

"Gloeocapsa forms a colony of multiple cells that probably protects cells in the center to exposure from UV radiation and provides some desiccation resistance as well," said researcher Charles Cockell, at the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute of Open University in Milton Keynes. "The ones we have [in Britain] are related to Antarctic species but they're also generally quite well-known in hot deserts. So, as well as the colony-forming habit, I suspect they've got quite good DNA-repair processes, too."

The researchers simply broke off whole pieces of the limestone cliffs and set them on the outside of the international space stations for 553 days. While there, the bacteria were exposed to intense solar radiation, cosmic rays, temperature extremes and a complete lack of oxygen. All the water in the rock would have boiled away instantly.

When the rocks were retrieved, significant numbers of bacteria were still alive.

Scientists hope to find microbes that could perform useful functions for space missions.

"It has been proposed that bacteria could be used in life-support systems to recycle everything," researcher Karen Olsson-Francis said. "There is also the concept that if we were to develop bases on the Moon or Mars, we could use bacteria for 'bio-mining' - using them to extract important minerals from rocks."

By exposing OU-20 to such extreme conditions, the researchers actually selected for strains with the most genetic resistance to such conditions.

"We could send up the spores of known 'extremophiles' and we can be pretty sure they will survive because we know already they're really resistant," Olsson-Francis said. "Whereas in this case, we just used a community to select for these organisms."

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